WA Secretary of State Blogs

WSL 160 celebration – Law Library

0625131102[Not all the surviving books of the original Territorial Collection reside in the Washington State Library. A good portion of them went with the Washington State Law Library when they split from WSL. The current State Law Librarian, Kay Newman, tells the story]:

The Territorial Library originated March 2, 1853, when Congress passed the Organic Act of the Territory of Washington. Section 17 provided $5,000 to be spent by the Governor of the new Territory to purchase a library. On March 17, 1853, Congress confirmed Isaac Ingalls Stevens as Governor of the Washington Territory.

Subsequently, he wrote to executives of the states and territories, asking for suggestions of books for the new Territorial Library. Books were purchased and donated; and by February 1854, the Territorial Library was housed near the corner of 4th and Main (now Capitol Avenue).

The State received land in 1891 to provide a place for a Capitol building. The legislature did not appropriate funds until 1911; but after $350,000 was provided, work began on the Temple of Justice. In 1913 the Supreme Court and the law library moved into the Temple of Justice, although the building was not actually finished until 1920.


In 1921, approximately 1200 law books were transferred from the Territorial Collection to the State Law Library’s collection.  These books were placed in the general collection, and some of the items were transferred to an off-site storage facility.

In 2004, Renee Corcoran, discovered books in the law library’s general collection which she believed were part of the original Territorial Collection. She spoke with the State Library and made trips to Archives to copy microfilm with the original shipping lists from items sent around the Cape to the Washington Territory.

From these lists, library staff began to comb through items at offsite storage and the general collection looking for books on the shipping lists. Copies were checked for book plates, and Renee began steaming off bookplates which said “State Library” if those items were on the shipping lists. Frequently, we found that the State Library bookplates had covered the Territorial Collection bookplates.

The library staff continued to go through the collection, cataloging everything which was part of the Territorial Collection. Currently, The State Law Library holds over six hundred verified volumes from the original Territorial Collection.

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